Western Hockey League included, Western Canada has plenty of high-end talent to watch for the 2016 NHL Draft.
But the top talent remains in the WHL.
The fight for top draft prospect coming out of the WHL is a three horse race to start the season, as Regina Pats center Sam Steel is leads the pack over Vancouver Giants winger Tyler Benson and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Kale Clague.
Steel is the slick offensive guy who will put up points.
“The flashy forward plays the game with a ton of speed and he is all over the ice,” a FC evaluator said of the Sherwood Park, AB. product. “A true possession forward that makes his teammates better with some crazy passes and a phenomenal understanding of the game. He finds creases in the opposing defenses and attacks without hesitation.”
Benson has been a favourite of Future Considerations for a few seasons now and has that true impact type of game. He is constantly involved in the play no matter what zone it is in or what the score might be.
“He is that power forward who has natural playmaking ability but can also play that heavy, drive the net game as well,” a FC evaluator said. “He uses his hips and edges, stopping and starting in different directions with the puck and protecting it along the wall as well as using his skilled hands in tight to maintain possession before making a play or taking a shot.”
Clague is another guy that has turned heads for a couple years now and looks like a bonafide top-four NHL prospect in the making.
“Clague is an intelligent puck mover as well as an effective defender,” explains a FC evaluator. “He moves with finesse and is one of the better skaters on the club. He brings a cool and calming demeanor and a game changer kind of element. He doesn’t get physical nearly enough but he always seems to slip away from coverage. Uses speed and top notch play reading to defend. He reeks of high end potential, but now he needs to show he is durable enough to match the lofty expectations for him.”
With the Moose Jaw Warriors, center Brett Howden has caught our evaluator’s eye with his solid two-way game.
While he is not a pure offensive point producer his overall influence on the game in all areas is what has him so high on our early rankings list.
Calgary Hitmen defenceman Jake Bean is a guy that has been up and down our rankings based on views last year and early this season.
“He is a smooth skating puck rusher that resembles a bar of soap in his ability to avoid contact at will,” one said of Bean. “Agility is a key to his game and allows him to get the advantage of positioning on his side, especially when working the point during offensive possessions. I see him as a pass first kind of guy who can set up a play with the best and will rack up a tonne of assists in the process. He’s just as likely to rush the puck as he is to drop a gem of a breakout pass on a teammates stick.”
Swift Current Broncos blueliner Max Lajoie is a guy we think will gain steam as the season progresses. This gifted skater’s development curve is steep and he is the top guy for the Broncos this season meaning loads of development time.
“He’s a relaxed defender who slows the game down and makes smart choices instead of making rash decisions that so many young defenders do,” a FC evaluator said. “He plays well pressure seemingly always makes an effective play to get the puck out of danger. He is a strong stickhandler and puck mover who can distribute with finesse and play a possession game.”
Czech Import defenders Vojtech Budik of the Prince Albert Raiders and Libor Hajek of the Saskatoon Blades have also caught our eye early and look to have some potential as first round picks.
Budik plays a strong puck rushing or puck moving game and can either skate it up ice himself or spring a forward with an accurate, well timed stretch pass. Hajek is a bit more of that well-rounded guy who plays physical and can skate well. He defends with great range and makes smart passes.
The BCHL boasts dynamic talents in Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro, too.
Jost is a speedy point-producing forward who can impact the game with his slick offensive skills. Fabbro is that mature, poised two-way defender that is so composed at such a young age that he rarely makes a mistake. Jost is off to a very strong start with the Vees, pilling up a bunch of points while Fabbro has us even more impressed with his intelligent physical game.
The top goaltenders out west include Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips, who looked good in Canada’s crease over at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament as well as Warriors backstop Zach Sawchenko. Add in American stopper Evan Sarthou playing for the Tri-City Americans and the WHL seems to have a very good group of net minders to watch develop as the season moves along.